Quite a bit has happened since I penned this piece back at the end of December about Henrik Lundqvist’s workload. At the time, the Rangers were sitting in fourth place in the Metro division, with a semi-comfortable grasp on a playoff spot and only four points out of first place in the division. They were sitting in the first wild card position, with a healthy Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Kreider. Lundqvist was on pace for 68 starts.
Since then, Shattenkirk has been knocked out of the lineup with a knee injury that required surgery (and basically every other defenseman, for that matter), Chris Kreider was diagnosed with a blood clot disorder that also required rib surgery. The Rangers have plummeted in the standings and now sit in last place in the Metro. Management has even come around, essentially preparing the fan base for a rebuild and writing a memo and holding a press conference signally that the team would be selling at the deadline. Lundqvist is still on pace for 68 starts.
So, what is going on? Well, Ondrej Pavelec did get hurt, and the team did win a few games after the announcement of the rebuild. It still doesn’t really make sense, does it? Let’s talk it out.
Management and the coaching staff don’t appear to be on the same page
Or, do they? On the surface, it is easily explainable by saying that Alain Vigneault is coaching for his job next season and he is going to ride Hank for all he is worth in order to maintain some respectability in performance. The front office has signaled rebuild, so their agenda should be getting as high a draft choice as possible in June, right? Right.
Except, that there may be a little more in play here. A big part of the memo that the organization sent out was a thinly veiled plea to keep fans engaged with the team on the ice. Who is going to be the most marketable player remaining when the dust settles on the sell-off? That’s right, Lundqvist. He puts fans in seats and people want to see him when they come to the Garden.
Additionally, if the front office views some (or all) of these young defensive call-ups as meaningful parts of future rosters, it could benefit their development to have a safety net behind them who could bail them out of mistakes. Also, getting Hank familiar with the kids for future seasons could help cement that relationship as the rebuild moves forward.
Those factors may be playing into the decision, or there could legitimately be a disconnect between the coaching staff and management. Either way, the organization needs to look at the bigger picture here and not have Lundqvist’s body break down any faster than it otherwise would be.
Pavelec is hurt and Alexandar Georgiev lacks NHL experience
These things are both true. However, Georgiev is on his entry level contract and controlled dirt cheap for two more seasons before becoming an RFA. Doesn’t it make sense for the organization to use some pressure free games to see what they have in him? Obviously, Benoit Allaire is getting a good look at him in practice but understanding his strengths and limitations in games can go a long way in determining whether they need to find a new backup for next season. Worst case scenario, Georgiev is completely overmatched and the Rangers continue to lose. Who cares? Better draft lottery odds. It’s a win-win.
For those of you (any of you?) asking, Igor Shestyorkin’s KHL contract runs through the end of next season. He will not be coming to North America before then, but will likely join the organization for the ‘19-‘20 campaign. This would give him two seasons of overlap with Lundqvist, and in a perfect world, he would have one season as a true backup and one as a platoon partner before taking over for good once Hank’s contract is up.
As for Pavelec, if he comes back healthy and Georgiev is sent down, he should play quite a bit to either 1) determine if he is worth re-signing for next season, or 2) allowing other teams to get a look at him so he can continue his NHL career.
Hank is a competitor and wants to be on the ice
Hank isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer by accident. He has carried a starter’s workload since his rookie season and wants to be on the ice. Every game. He wouldn’t be the competitor and elite player he is if he didn’t. That decision, however is not up to him. Clearly, management went to Lundqvist and explained their position on a rebuild, and he bought in. This is no different. Explaining that he needs to save those bullets for a season in which the team has a chance to contend is not a difficult message to send.
I have to think that is a combination of all of these factors leading to Hank’s workload issues at the moment. Regardless, the situation needs to change, as no good can come from a soon-to-be 36-year-old goaltender playing upwards of 70 games for a team that is not going to make the playoffs. It just doesn’t. The Rangers have 24 games remaining, including five before the trade deadline. Realistically, Hank should be playing no more than 12 of the remaining games. This would still put his season workload at 60 starts, which is fine. The team has five remaining back-to-backs this season and Hank should not appear in both games even once. There is no good reason for that to happen.
So, what do all of you think? Do you think Hank’s workload is an issue or should he be there as a safety net for the kids? Sounds off in the comments below.